World Solar Power Goes Parabolic

From a very small base, and from a tiny position in world energy supply, the buildout of global solar power is starting to go parabolic. Last year, according to the just released BP Statistical Review (you must access the Excel workbook for solar data), global solar generation nearly doubled to reach 55.7 TWh (terrawatt hours). | see: Global Solar Consumption in TWh (terrawatt hours) 2001-2011.

To put this power capacity in context, North America generated almost 100 times as much power in 2011 from all sources (coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, wind, solar), to reach 5204.5 TWh. By that measure, solar power capacity on a global basis can barely be detected, and is therefore a kind of joke, right? Uhm no, that would be wrong.

As world nuclear power goes into retreat, because of its enormous expense, catastrophe-risk, and complexity, it is power generated by solar that offers easy time-to-completion benefits and project clarity, especially in the developing world. (Indeed, nuclear power again lost primary energy share last year, according to the BP Statistical Review). Moreover, as the world is no longer able to fund economic growth with oil, owing to flat global supply, the industrial economy continues to migrate towards the electrical grid. While this certainly means that coal fired power generation will dominate for the next decade, it’s also the case that a more robust powergrid will become the receptacle for solar power.

While I am not ready to sign on to a Singularity’s version of solar buildout, the possibility that solar power reaches 10% of global power generation by the end of this decade should give you some idea of the new world made possible by plummeting solar voltaic prices, and, the array of other technological advances in capturing the diffuse energy of the sun. To accomplish this gain in primary energy share, solar will need to advance from last year’s 55.7 TWh to approximately 2200 TWh. That probably sounds impossible to most observers, but I would point out that at current growth rates, those levels could be achieved as early as the year 2018.

It is not a mistake that global solar capacity has begun a parabolic move. While many will conclude that demand is the main driver of this growth—and that is not incorrect—it is actually the increasing difficulty and complexity of other power generation construction which is now casting off advantages, to solar power. Do not underestimate the speed of solar.

–Gregor

  • http://www.howardlindzon.com howardlindzon

    Awesome….hard to imagine people staying short this sector down here with this data point.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dagjohansen2 Dag Johansen

    See, Mitt, Green jobs are real.  

  • gregor.us

    Hi Howard. It’s less clear how to play this through listed securities on exchanges. Part of the exponential growth rate potential has to do with crashing PV prices. I would concentrate more on the power and grid and electric metering/device sector. In other words, there’s all this higher margin equipment that has to expand in scope should the global buildout continue. This will mean everything from large caps like ABB to start-ups in Colorado, California (current locus of metering and solar device markers).

    The macro takeaway is that the power sector which produces kilowatts, not the fossil fuel sector which produces liquid BTU (oil), is going to get all the growth. It’s the power and powergrid infrastructure that is driving Non-OECD economies and because of path dependency this will only accelerate.

    G

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000947822045 Kyle Sager

     Gregor, I was so very delighted to see that your chart was posted on the Washington Post blog.  First rate observation. You are always so very thorough and keen.  Categorically my favourite blogger in this space.  The exponential growth is fascinating.  Hardware cost decline charts (logarithmic) I have seen appear incredibly consistent over thirty year but is also such a small comparative piece of the pie now (“asymptotically” shrinking relative to installation costs) that I am beginning to think that the major cause for the pristine perfectness of your chart above may be due to the fact that we are, indeed, initiating the “grid parity” threshold.  IE “It’s everything” – “All that was foretold happening right on schedule.”  Falling costs laid against rising competitive costs.  Your “Macro takeaway” above: Brilliantly spoken. Spot on.  Thanks for always sharing your keen insight.  I’m a huge fan.

  • Gnoll110

     Ok, I’ll ask the obvious question.

    What about fossil fuels sub sectors (Coal, Coal Seam Gas(CSG) and Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG)) used for power production?

    Signed Dorothy.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5LNZR3UIP4CDFCWHXY4PGMKDZM Diogenes

    Solar power is much like electric cars–been around for over a century and going nowhere fast.  As subsidies disappear, solar will disappear as it is not economically viable.  When other forms of power generation get scarcer and more expensive, solar may eventually become viable.  There are no profitable solar companies even with subsidies and mandated purchases by public utilities at exorbitant rates.

  • gregor.us

     Well, the subsidies are not disappearing. For sure they may have downshifted in Europe, but in the US and especially emerging Asia the advent of FITs are now appearing. The problem with taking an anti solar stance based on cost alone is that the world is already in the process of bringing some of the externalities associated with nuclear and coal power into policy making. That’s why Japan is about to go hard into solar, for example. Because in Japan, the “cost” of solar is now weighed against a newly perceived cost of nuclear, which includes not just the KWh cost of nuclear generated electricity but the associated risk and complexity of nuclear.

    The world of global energy is filled with irony. The Non-OECD has already delivered one major irony that escaped nearly every oil analyst: that “poor” people in the developing world would be less sensitive to higher oil prices compared to “rich” people in the OECD, because the former simply were using and continue to use much less oil, as they migrate from 0 to 1 as new oil users.

    Now for the next irony: Non-OECD countries will and already are adopting solar energy even though it “costs more” because compared to the construction times, the complexity, and external costs of other power generation in dense areas of the developing world, solar is a victory.

    G

  • gregor.us

     Coal has huge market share and huge momentum, so coal is going to become the number one primary energy source of the world again. But, concurrently, I expect solar to grow at exponential rates.

    G

  • gregor.us

     Cheers, and thanks for reading. -G

  • http://roycobden.wordpress.com/ Roy Cobden

    I’d like to see an overlay on that graph of the cost of pv (as a cost per kW of production) over the same time period. It would be interesting to see the correlation with the global output curve above.

    As an aside, one of the factors Solyndra blamed on their demise was falling prices of competitive pv technologies.

    Makes investment in individual players in the field difficult when you might be betting on the next Sony Betamax…

  • http://www.energyquicksand.com/ Edward Kerr

     Gregor:

    Though you are correct in stating that coal presently has a huge market share it is, none the less, in decline (though not fast enough for my liking) here in the US do to the increase of NG due to ramped up “fracking”. As I recall 106 coal burning power plants were decommissioned in 2011. I doubt and certainly hope that coal will never again be the ” number one primary energy source of the world”. As wind and solar continue to grow and people are becoming more aware of the “exigent” costs of coal I see coal continuing to decline regardless of the efforts of the coal industry to prevent that reality. Though I personally don’t see NG to be a long term solution to our energy issues it is, none the less, for now a better choice that coal.

    @yahoo-5LNZR3UIP4CDFCWHXY4PGMKDZM:disqus : lay off the liquid of your name sake as it is clouding your thinking..

    In a single year the sun provides more energy, by far, than remains locked up in all of the coal, oil and uranium remaining on the planet. We need only to develop ways to utilize that energy to restore the planet to an “un-endangered” status.

  • http://www.gregor.us/ gregor.us

    Coal is not in decline. It’s consumption is in decline in the US, true. But globally, coal is roaring ahead. The decline in US consumption of coal in 2011 barely registers statistically, against total global consumption. Unfortunately, we will see coal regain its position as the primary energy source of the world before it is knocked back again by a combination of other sources.

    G

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BG2K2ISLBSU7Z5LWMK66RBSAUI Malcolm

    How do you reconcile our imminent problems with peak energy and the medium term issues of anthropogenic climate change. The former poses an immediate crisis for economic stability and the latter poses a medium term crisis for our very survival – as a civilisation and quite possibly our very existence?
    Of course if you do not buy into this dilema, your answer will be a simple black and white one.
    However may I contend that this THE question of our era and needs to be taken seriously.
    Malcolm Lyons
    New Zealand

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000947822045 Kyle Sager

     Great work.

  • shader mohamad Shamim

    Oil is dying, nuclear power is backing out, only one stands before us
    and that is solar and all other forms of renewable energy. An
    inextinguishable source of energy which comes from the sun may be the
    solution to our energy problem. Solar energy is gaining popularity,
    advocates and supporters left and right, from the North to the South,
    each place has someone backing the solar energy up. With our world
    reaching its limits as caused by global warming, we look to a saviour,
    and this parabolic curve shows us who the clear winner is. Solar energy
    is gaining popularity from both private and public agencies. Research
    and other things related to solar energy are constantly being done to
    make sure that we are receiving an efficient and productive way of
    generating electricity.
    With support from private and public
    sectors, the curve will go up even further. It will go steeper and
    steeper until it reaches the peak. When the time comes that it reaches
    its peak, we will all be living in a life powered by renewable energy
    and fossil fuel will be a thing of the past. Solar is one of the easiest
    to harvest, and with experts coming around helping out the solar
    industry, it will surely see a huge leap from its previous years.

    Email:             admin@goldcoastenergy.com.auwebsite:          http://www.goldcoastenergy.com.au

  • http://www.technota.com/business-it-support Business IT Support

    hmm great work on this …. thanks for sharing it ……….

  • http://www.technota.com/business-it-support Business IT Support

    ‘d like to see an overlay on that graph of the cost of pv (as a cost
    per kW of production) over the same time period. It would be interesting
    to see the correlation with the global output curve above.

    As an aside, one of the factors Solyndra blamed on their demise was falling prices of competitive pv technologies.

    Makes investment in individual players in the field difficult when you might be betting on the next Sony Betamax…

  • http://www.budujeko.pl/kolektory-sloneczne-cieczowe kolektory słoneczne

    Your solar power growing information is good and likely them.Your way growing details are great.Then the possibility of solar power growing details are easily understand by viewers.

  • Gold_Coast_Energy

    Oil is dying, nuclear power is backing out, only one stands before us
    and that is solar and all other forms of renewable energy. An
    inextinguishable source of energy which comes from the sun may be the
    solution to our energy problem. Solar energy is gaining popularity,
    advocates and supporters left and right, from the North to the South,
    each place has someone backing the solar energy up. With our world
    reaching its limits as caused by global warming, we look to a saviour,
    and this parabolic curve shows us who the clear winner is. Solar energy
    is gaining popularity from both private and public agencies. Research
    and other things related to solar energy are constantly being done to
    make sure that we are receiving an efficient and productive way of
    generating electricity.
    With support from private and public
    sectors, the curve will go up even further. It will go steeper and
    steeper until it reaches the peak. When the time comes that it reaches
    its peak, we will all be living in a life powered by renewable energy
    and fossil fuel will be a thing of the past. Solar is one of the easiest
    to harvest, and with experts coming around helping out the solar
    industry, it will surely see a huge leap from its previous years.

  • http://www.nesuk.com/green-deal.aspx green deal

    Solar power energy is one of the best option nowadays to use and save environment. Usage of solar energy system is very much high today in the world and is necessary to save electricity and better utilization of sunlight to convert into solar energy.

  • http://www.technota.com/business-it-support Business IT support

    the world is no longer able to fund economic growth with oil, owing to
    flat global supply, the industrial economy continues to migrate towards
    the electrical grid.